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Nguyen Duc Dieu Trinh’s Eclectic Approach in Embroidered Painting

by Dieu Hien

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This disabled artist impresses lay people and experts alike with her artistic originality and her warm heart.

The past several years have seen the emergence of Nguyen Duc Dieu Trinh as a major talent in the ancient medium of embroidery. At her first exhibition of forty works in 1997 Ms. Dieu Trinh impressed lay people and experts alike with her skill and the variety of her subjects. She presented a second exhibition in April 2001 and participated in a Viet Nam Culture Week program in Belgium during September 2001.

The inspiration for her embroidered pieces is often a painting or a photograph, with images ranging from landscapes an still-lifes to birds, animals, portraits, abstract art and classical Asian works. Despite a crippling illness in childhood, Ms. Dieu Trinh was on crutches to exhibitions and bookshops to search for material. She has embroidered Girl by Lilies by To Ngoc Van, Streets by Bu Xuan Phai and Playing o an quan (a children’s game played with pebbles on a grid of squares) by Nguyen Phan Chanh, photographs by Pham Khac, Do Ngoc, Hong Nga and Quang Minh; and the work of European painters such as Anguste Renoir and Marc Chagall. Ms. Dieu Trinh identifies the artist on every piece.

Viewers note the embroiderer’s ability to preserve the original spirit of each work while adding her own creativity in combining lively colors with the silk’s smooth texture. Ms. Trinh chose photographer Quang Minh’s Golden Autumn and River and Waters of the South and Don Village for her April 2001 Exhibition. As Mr. Quang Minh says, “She makes the pieces more colorful and vivid and yet softer than the original; they aren’t rigid copies.” Sometimes Ms. Trinh deliberately alters the original. Mr. Minh says she transformed his Golden Autumn, which he’d taken in an Australian park, into a forest by omitting elephant rider, houses and people to made the scene look wild.

Ms. Dieu Trinh’s warm heart pervades her vivid portrayal of people and scenes as demonstrated in An Old Woman Selling Porridge. Her Don Village with its sunrise in rendered in bright golden tones show her much admired use of color. The sunlight shining on a young girl’s body in Virgin dazzles the viewer, while Meditating Monk and Bodhisattva are sketched simply and beautifully blended colors. The Scent of Lotus is done entirely in white. Trinh’s embroidery looks so natural that the viewer is unaware of the skill and craft that make it so.

Ms. Trinh was born into a large family. When she was eight months old she contracted infantile paralysis. The family was then living on remote Do Dao Island, and there was only one boat a month to the mainland. By the time Dieu Trinh received treatment, she was paralyzed from the waist down.

Despite the difficulty of getting around on crutches, Dieu Trinh attended school and ata fifteen becase a trainee in an embroidery co-operative. A master embroiderer from northern Viet Nam took her under his wing and taught her his skills. Later she worked for Mr. Loi, her second teacher, who encouraged her to do her own color blending. When Mr. Loi’s shop fell on hard time, she stayed on to keep the business going.

In 1990, she was invited to join the Dong Phuong Embroidery Export Co. as a technician, embroidering silk paintings with silk thread. Mr. Loi told her not to worry about him, but accept the opportunity. She decided to take the plunge.

Since silk thread wasn’t available, Mr. Trinh had to unravel thread from woven silk. This thread made the paintings shiny and veryfine, but the company dissolved, and she and thirty-five others were laid off. An aunt came to Ms. Dieu Trinh’s assistance, giving her ten million dong to put in the bank. Instead she bought supplies for embroidered paintings. She sold some of the works and gained some commissions. He aunt continued to help her, and she took on two employees, using her home as a shop. For month, Ms. Dieu Trinh sold no painting, but aunt paid the employees, and they kept producing.

Instead of using a machine to outline the embroidery designs as she had at the export company, Ms. Dieu Trinh did the drawings herself. She couldn’t afford to heir professional designer. Although her business grew to eight employees, she continued to generate new designs herself.

In 1997, her aunt arranged the first exhibition of forty works, almost all of which sold during the show or shortly thereafter. Following this success, Ms. Trinh realized that studying painting would stimulate her creativity; she attended a night course for a year and one-half. At her second exhibition, her painting teacher notes that the work looked more mature and the color blends were more subtle. Nine pieces sold right away. Specialists and lovers of embroidery painting began to take notice. As her reputation grew, Ms. Trinh changed her name to Nguyen Duc Dieu Trinh, to honor her father’s family, Nguyen Duc.

Ms. Trinh’s works are the result of intense concentration. Her father recalls, “I used to stop my daughter from working until 3:00 a.m., but then I realized this was when she did her best work. Now, I don’t intervene.” Before starting a piece, Ms. Trinh focuses her attention on what the creator of the original work wanted to convey and mentally select and blends the colors. If she discovers a mistake in the course of her work, she undoes it immediately. By the time her embroidered paintings are shown, they look perfect.

Ms. Trinh now supports herself and ten employees, a sign of growth that brings its own challenge. She needs capital to improve her business, but since she is constantly on call to make designs and provide work for her employees during the day, she has to do her own embroidery at night after everyone leaves. It is still tough getting around on crutches. Yet Ms. Trinh says she feels no sadness but only happiness because through her craft she has become a useful citizen who make life more beautiful.

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